SEN review set to be most significant 'since Warnock'

25th June 2010 at 01:00
Sir Bob Balchin, who led last Tory overhaul of sector, says Teather investigation will have 'serious consequences'

A review of special educational needs provision in England will result in the most radical changes to the system for 30 years, the educationalist who led the last Conservative overhaul has said.

The review, which was announced last week, will look at why one in five pupils is now officially labelled as having special needs, and how to pay for the costly extra support they need.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to shake up the way children are assessed. The review, led by one of his ministers, Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather, is likely to result in major changes to the role of local authorities within the SEN system.

The review, said Mr Gove, had been inspired by his own "personal experiences" of the SEN system - his sister is deaf - and those of prime minister David Cameron, whose late son, Ivan, was severely disabled.

Ms Teather will consider improvements to teacher training, including the introduction of high-level professional development and new modules for students on how to identify children with SEN.

The new Government's policy on inclusion has softened since it came to office. Mr Gove had promised to "end the legal bias" towards sending children with SEN to mainstream schools and to end the closure of special schools.

But addressing headteachers at last week's annual conference of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services, he said he wanted to "make inclusion work better" for parents who want to keep their children in mainstream education. He also wants special and mainstream schools to work more closely together.

"Local authorities are the gatekeepers and the funders in the SEN system; this needs reform, I think it is wrong," he said. "I also want the review to look at why so many children are being identified as having SEN; this is critically important."

The previous administration was also considering reforming the local authority role in the SEN system and had piloted schemes to separate funding and assessment.

Sir Bob Balchin, who led the last Tory SEN review, said: "This will be the first major review into special educational needs which will have serious consequences since (Baroness) Warnock('s 1978 report), and that was over 30 years ago. Now is the opportunity for us to take stock.

"In my view, reforms are required, but that is a complex process. Decisions should only be made after very careful research and this review should not be completed in a hurry."

Claire Dorer, chief executive of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools, warned that increased use of private companies for assessment of SEN children could increase red tape.

"At a time when public money is tight, you don't want to create any more bureaucracy," she said. "Local authorities are able to be consistent because they know what resources are available, but if they didn't assess children, perhaps more would get a fair settlement based on level of need.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, said: "This review needs to focus on the changing educational landscape and how the needs of children can be met when they attend an academy or free school - in those institutions their Senco at the moment wouldn't have to have the same level of qualifications or training."

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